Warehouse picking is an important process that involves picking items from a facility to fulfill any orders that customers make. It’s considered to be among the most labor-intensive tasks that warehouse personnel must complete. In many distribution centers, more than 50% of operating costs relate to the order picking process.
Regardless of the size of your warehouse and the types of products you move, you can more efficiently complete the order picking process with forklifts and warehouse pickers. These lift trucks can be used in many different settings. The types of equipment you obtain for your warehouse or distribution center depend on the order picking strategies you employ. In this guide, you’ll learn more about order picker equipment and how you’ll benefit from using this equipment in your warehouse.
What Are Order Pickers?
Order pickers are individuals or pieces of equipment that pick and deliver various items that are needed to fulfill orders. These items will be picked up from storage areas before being distributed to the shipping area. Order picker machines are operated at elevations that are higher than a distribution center’s second racking level. It’s possible for these machines to reach a height of up to 40 feet. They can be placed in areas where rolling ladders and pallet trucks are typically used.
In many warehouses, order pickers are used in high-level and low-level picking as well as very narrow aisle distribution centers. Order pickers are suitable for any process that involves moving numerous SKUs without any single SKU having a high quantity of items. However, these pieces of equipment aren’t ideal for unit load picking, transportation over long distances, or right angle stacking.
Any individual who operates an order picker at an elevated height will be tasked with wearing a harness. They must also receive extensive training on how to maneuver the trucks. Personnel safety is of the utmost importance when you use order picker equipment in your facility. Keep in mind that there are four different types of order pickers at your disposal. The one that works best for you mainly depends on the size of your warehouse and the types of items that are being moved during the picking process.
Types of Order Pickers
There are two basic types of order pickers that you can obtain for your facility, which include operator-up and mast-style order pickers. An operator-up order picker is regularly used to pick loose cases or items from pallets when they are positioned at higher levels. These pieces of equipment can accommodate low or medium weights that reach as high as 2,500 pounds. They can also pick items at a height of 40 feet. Keep in mind that the operator of this vehicle will be on the same level as the inventory that they’re picking.
Mast-style order pickers are designed specifically to perform load lifting. The mast is comprised of an elevation mechanism and fork. These systems are capable of carrying much heavier loads when compared to an operator-up order picker. However, they typically reach a max height of around 12-20 feet, which means that they are ideally suited to low-level picking.
When you’re looking to buy the best order picker for your warehouse, consider what level most of your items will be picked from. Order pickers are typically separated into low-level, standard, and high-level pickers. Mast-style order pickers that focus specifically on low-level items are fast and easy to maneuver. If, however, you need to obtain items from difficult-to-reach places, an operator-up order picker may be your best option.
There are four distinct picking strategies that you should consider, which include:
- Batch picking
- Zone picking
- Wave picking
- Cluster picking
You should be careful about selecting the right picking strategy that will improve efficiency with your warehouse operations. The main factors to consider when weighing your options include the size of your facility, the number of orders you receive, the number of SKUs that are in stock, and the availability of human and financial resources.
Batch picking occurs when pickers are required to move lengthy distances in a warehouse to complete several orders that have the same SKU. When a warehouse uses this strategy, pickers are normally tasked with selecting a group of different orders at once, during which only one type of product will be picked. With this strategy, pickers don’t need to make numerous trips to obtain different items for different orders.
Zone picking is a “pick and pass” strategy that’s commonly used to fulfill multi-item or complex orders. The purpose of taking this approach is to improve efficiency. SKUs that are relatively similar will be organized into defined groups that are known as “zones”. Pickers will be separated into these zones and can’t pick from multiple zones at once. In order to complete an order, pickers will select all of the necessary SKUs from the zone they’ve been assigned to.
Wave picking involves fulfilling orders by selecting a single SKU at a time. In order to ensure that shipping and picking operations are optimized, order picking occurs at different times during the day.
Cluster picking allows personnel to pick items for numerous orders at once by placing them into pick clusters. Pickers are then able to fulfill orders by moving to the pick location just once. This strategy is most often used when performing small order picking.
Order Picker Roles and Responsibilities
When you select order picker equipment for your warehouse or distribution center, you should focus on maintaining operator safety and making sure that any employees who use these vehicles have the proper training. While low-level pickers are relatively safe, even a small mistake can cause injury or damage products, which is why training is essential. Make sure that anyone who uses a picker is wearing personal protective equipment while doing so.
The equipment you purchase for your warehouse should also be inspected and maintained on a regular basis to reduce repair costs and keep your personnel safe at all times. If your equipment isn’t maintained, there’s a chance that it would malfunction while being used. The inspections you receive will catch issues early on and save you from spending large sums of money on costly repairs.
In the modern warehouse, technology is highly advantageous and necessary if you want to boost efficiency and maintain productivity. The pickers you hire need to know how to use warehouse management systems (WMS) and other forms of technology that facilitate a more streamlined picking process.
Another way you can reach your productivity goals is by hiring skilled and trained operators. As mentioned above, having trained operators makes it less likely that accidents will occur in your warehouse. It’s also more likely that the picking process will be completed in an efficient manner.
Automation in Order Picking
There are a wide range of automation technologies that are designed to make the picking process easier and more efficient. If you’ve been searching for effective solutions that will bolster productivity in your warehouse, automation technologies may be exactly what you’re looking for. One type of automation technology that you should consider is an autonomous mobile robot (AMR). These robots are capable of transporting items without needing to move in a preset path or be supervised by an employee.
AMRs have the ability to perform tasks by taking the shortest route possible. They can also smartly avoid collisions with moving and fixed objects. While there are other types of automation technologies for you to consider, AMRs offer an added level of flexibility by selecting the safest and most efficient route at all times.
You can integrate AMRs with your warehouse control system to start making improvements to your facility’s productivity. These robots are capable of performing picking, transporting, and placement tasks in all kinds of environments. Keep in mind that these technologies are designed to bolster the work that human pickers perform. The most effective automation tools are ones that can be used in your warehouse seamlessly.
Once implemented, you’ll benefit from shorter picking routes and less walking time. Automation is capable of being used in many industries, which include medical equipment, eCommerce, retail, transportation, and manufacturing. One clear benefit of choosing automation is that you’ll no longer need to rely on conveyors and other basic machines to complete the picking process. While conveyors are effective, they are also bulky and much less versatile. Overall, automated warehouse picking reduces the possibility of inefficient tracking, human error, and delays.
Regardless of the type of warehouse or distribution center you manage, order pickers are highly recommended for any material handling operation. If your warehouse fulfills orders, obtaining order picker equipment can help you enhance your existing picking strategy. When selecting an order picker and picking strategy, you should consider your budget, your preferred features, the types of items you’re moving, and the height that the items are placed at.
During picking operations, it’s highly recommended that everyone involved has received ample training and knows how to keep the worksite safe. You can use automation and other forms of technology to improve safety and efficiency for your picking operations. In the years to come, artificial intelligence and machine learning are two areas where order picking equipment will likely improve. Even though autonomous mobile robots consistently meet their goals, future developments in this field should produce even better results.